Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - 2 1/2 stars

Oh Peter Jackson, why?  Why did you have to take one book and blow it up into 3 movies, each over 2 1/2 hours in length?  The Lord of the Rings trilogy made sense.  That was 3 books, and lots of stuff had to be cut out.  But The Hobbit is the exact opposite.  Just because Lord of the Rings was 3 epic movies, doesn't mean The Hobbit has to be.

If you recall the events of the first movie (An Unexpected Journey), 13 dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins are on a quest to recover the Arkenstone from the dragon Smaug.  Somehow this stone will enable one of the dwarfs, Thorin Oakenshield, to become king, and the rest of the dwarfs will be able to reclaim their homeland.  The movie ended with the company being attacked by Orcs and rescued by the giant eagles from Lord of the Rings.  I'm tempted to ask why the eagles can't be enlisted to just fly them to the Lonely Mountain, but then we wouldn't have a movie (or 3 movies). 

The Desolation of Smaug starts right where the previous movie left off (after a brief prologue).  The group is still running from the orcs, and they take refuge at the home of Beorn.  While leading them there, Gandalf is his usual, unhelpful self.  When asked whether they will be safe there, he answers "Perhaps.  He will give us shelter, or he will kill us."  The next day, they head towards Mirkwood, a creepy looking forest.  At this point, Gandalf remembers something Galadriel said to him and he decides to leave.  So once again Gandalf is gone for most of the running time of the movie. 

I've never read The Hobbit, so I can't say what was added or changed.  I am getting tired of Galdalf always going off on his own.  It seemed like it happened twice in the last movie, with him showing up just in the nick of time to save the group.  This time, we see where he goes.  The problem is he doesn't learn anything.  He visits a mountain tomb, meets up with Radagast, and explains a few things.  But he already knew this stuff, so what was the point of his trip?

My two favorite characters in these movies are Gandalf and Bilbo.  We lose Gandalf for most of the movie, and while Bilbo is still around, he is relegated to the background most of the time.  Thorin is the star of this movie, and he gets more lines and screen time than Bilbo.  Which is a shame since Martin Freeman was such a good choice for Bilbo.  Richard Armitage is a good screen presence and brings a lot of gravitas to the role of Thorin Oakenshield, but his character is boring as hell.  He's in a bad mood the whole time, and every line is delivered in exactly the same way.  Just once I'd like to see him lighten up and joke around.

One of the things that made Lord of the Rings so enjoyable was that we got to know and like the characters.  In between action sequences, the characters would talk to each other and it was nice spending time with them.  Not so much in these Hobbit movies.  I had a hard time caring about any of the dwarfs, and so if the story is not being advanced, I got bored.  Too many times I was looking at my watch and hoping the movie was almost over.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is in this movie, and that's ... fine.  It's ok for director Peter Jackson to add characters from Lord of the Rings in wherever he can to help tie the two trilogies together.  But Legolas was the least interesting character in Lord of the Rings, and he doesn't really add much here.  He gets to spend a lot of time jumping around and shooting orcs, which gets old after a while.

The highlight of the movie is when Bilbo encounters Smaug the dragon.  There aren't too many movies that pull off a dragon well, and this one does.  He looks great, he has the right amount of menace, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect actor to provide the voice.  There is a great 5 - 10 minutes of Bilbo and Smaug, but then the rest of the dwarfs show up and it becomes a video game.  Smaug is chasing them around the caves under the mountain, they run and hide, and on and on.  Like everything else in this movie, it goes on too long.  After 20 minutes or so I got tired of Smaug. 

I loved The Lord of the Rings, and I was looking forward to The Hobbit.  But so far, the first two movies have been disappointments.  Hopefully the last movie, There and Back Again, will be better.  We'll know in a year.

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